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Fantasy, Forgery, and the Byron Legend

Fantasy, Forgery, and the Byron Legend

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Fantasy, Forgery, and the Byron Legend
    Book Description:

    Byron was -- to echo Wordsworth -- half-perceived and half-created. He would have affirmed Jean Baudrillard's observation that "to seduce is to die to reality and reconstitute oneself as illusion." But among the readers he seduced, in person and in poetry, were women possessed of vivid imaginations who collaborated with him in fashioning his legend. Accused of "treating women harshly," Byron acknowledged: "It may be so -- but I have been their martyr. My whole life has been sacrificed to them and by them." Those whom he spell bound often returned the favor in their own writings tried to remake his public image to reflect their own.

    Through writings both well known and generally unknown, James Soderholm examines the poet's relationship with five women: Elizabeth Pigot, Caroline Lamb, Annabella Milbanke, Teresa Guiccioli, and Marguerite Blessington. These women participated in Byron's life and literary career and the manipulation of images that is the Byron legend.

    Soderholm argues against the sentimental depictions of biographers who would preserve Byron's romantic aura by diminishing the contributions of these women to his social, sexual, and literary identity. By restoring the contexts in which literary works charm or bedevil particular readers, the author shows the consequences of Byron's poetic seductions during and after his life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5895-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. A Note On Citations
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: The Grammar of Glamour
    (pp. 1-15)

    By a coincidence of labors—one literary, one maternal (but both Scottish)—the word “glamour” and George Gordon Byron came into the world at about the same time. Walter Scott and Robert Burns first gave the word “glamour” literary currency. Scott used it in his 1802 ballad “Christie’s Will,” in which a group of gypsies dupes a schoolmaster by magically entrapping him:

    He thought the warlocks o’ the rosy cross

    Had fang’d him in their nets sae fast;

    Or that the gipsies’ glamour’d gang

    Had laired his learning at the last.

    In a note to this poem Scott glossed the...

  7. 1 Trial Fantasies: Byron and Elizabeth Pigot
    (pp. 16-39)

    Elizabeth Bridget Pigot was a young lady living in provincial Southwell when Lord Byron arrived on the scene in the spring of 1804. She was twenty-one years old and Byron sixteen. The first woman involved with Byron in literary matters, Pigot won favor with him by copying out his early poems and by avoiding the conjugal intrigues of her peers. In her kind offices Byron found the encouragement he needed to grow into a combination of Anacreon, Ovid, Werther, and Thomas Moore. After 1808, Pigot, who lived to be eighty-three, never saw or heard from Byron again. She would write...

  8. 2 Byron’s Miniature Writ Large: Lady Caroline Lamb
    (pp. 40-69)

    Having consumed Cantos 1 and 2 ofChilde Harold’s Pilgrimage(1812) and the gossip about Byron, Lady Caroline Lamb determined to meet the author even if, she declared, “he is as ugly as Aesop.”¹ After seeing Byron’s notoriously pale face she claimed it would ruin her. Gratified by her overtures, Byron told Lamb she was “the cleverest, most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous, fascinating little being that lives now, or ought to have lived 2000 years ago” (BLJ2: 116)—but he quickly grew to despise her advances. Byron’s first full-fledged fan, Lamb wrote her vow of affection for her poet-lover...

  9. 3 The Divining of Byron: Annabella Milbanke
    (pp. 70-101)

    At the epicenter of Regency society, Byron’s poetry and reputation produced tremors in many who knew him. Annabella Milbanke’s bardic pursuits and her powers of divination, for example, contained faults—or rather fault lines—that originated with Byron. Like Lamb, Milbanke knew Childe Harold before she met his author, but unlike Lamb, she wished to reform Byron, to exorcise the gloomy Byronic hero from his creator’s soul. To do this she turned her own bardic powers on the poet in order to break his spell and put him under hers. Between 1812 and 1815, increasingly harried both by Lamb’s imagination...

  10. 4 Unwriting His Body: Teresa Guiccioli’s Transubstantiation of Byron
    (pp. 102-131)

    Whether Byron’s disgust with the “corporeal necessities” of women reached a Swiftian pitch is a matter of conjecture, but the opinion of Teresa Guiccioli, his Italian lover from 1819 until his departure for Greece in 1824, must be properly weighed. For Jonathan Swift, a woman’s processes of elimination produced a crippling. trauma in those unlucky enough to witness them. In “Cassinus and Peter” (1731), for example, two Cambridge undergraduates fall in love, but Cassinus has the misfortune to realize something human, all too human, about his inamorata: “Nor wonder how I lost my Wits; / Oh! Caelia, Caelia, Caelia...

  11. 5 The Art of Conversation: Lady Marguerite Blessington
    (pp. 132-162)

    If women were writers, Byron was usually ill-disposed toward them. If they were great talkers, so much the worse.¹ Though he could admire the writings of Madame de Stael (“her works are delightful”), he could not endure her forcing others “to listen & look at her with her pen behind her ear and her mouth full ofink” (BLJ 4: 19). There is plainly a connection between his revulsion for women eating in front of him (both Annabella Milbanke and Madame de Staël were great gourmandes) and for women speaking voluminously. Women have traditionally been placed either above or below...

  12. APPENDIX A: Transcription of French Portions from a Séance with Byron
    (pp. 163-164)
  13. APPENDIX B: The Byron Legend in an Age of Artificial Intelligence
    (pp. 165-170)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 171-189)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 190-192)
  16. Index
    (pp. 193-196)